For the second year in a row, Beirut Pride got off to a rocky start.
After police raided last year's festival and arrested organizers three days into the weeklong series of events, Beirut Pride's opening event had to be canceled this weekend following threats. The 2019 fest was set to kick off with a concert at the Palace on Saturday, but according to organizer Hadi Damien, the venue had been targeted with threatening phone calls and hostile messages on social media.
In a statement to France 24, Beirut Pride said opponents of the festival vowed to commit acts of "violence against the theatre and against the participants."
The events came under scrutiny when Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the former chief mufti of Lebanon, accused the Beirut Pride of transgressing "good morals," while religious authorities in the majority Muslim country called on the festival to shut down. At issue was fear that the concert would be used to advocate for same-sex marriage.
The concerns reportedly stemmed from a Facebook group titled Marriage Equality Lebanon posting a flier with information about the kickoff concert on its page. Organizers say, however, that the organization is not formally affiliated with Beirut Pride, which primarily consists of workshops and lectures to provide services, resources, and support to the Arab country's LGBTQ+ community.
While same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Lebanon, the nation became the first in the Middle East to strike down its anti-gay sodomy laws last year. Following three other pro-LGBTQ+ verdicts, a Mount Lebanon appeals court ruled homosexuality does not "contradict the laws of nature," as was claimed by Article 534.
The colonial-era statute mandated a sentence of one year in prison for anyone convicted of same-sex activity.
Despite initial hiccups, Damien told Reuters that Beirut Pride would continue as planned, with events scheduled in local bars and restaurants throughout the week. Last year, Damien was arrested, held overnight, and forced by the city's police force to sign a pledge canceling all Pride-related events.
"There is nothing in the world that goes backwards," he said.
Beirut is the first and only city in the Arab world to permit an LGBTQ+ Pride event. Earlier this year, fears of retaliation forced the cancellation of an unrelated concert by the Lebanese band Mashrou' Leila after Muslim leaders denounced the show as "blasphemy." The group's lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is gay.
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